Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 1, Chapter 15

By Willa Cather

Book 1, Chapter 15

  • Otto gets back from town the next day, exhausted from his trip. He reports that the coroner is coming later that day. He brought with him a young Bohemian eager to help his countrymen, named Anton Jelinek. He immediately thanks Grandmother for helping the Shimerdas.
  • Jim admires Anton. The young man goes to school in town.
  • At dinner Grandfather talks more than usual. He also likes Anton. The men discuss whether or not a priest will be willing to come to a suicide. Grandfather thinks no priest is necessary for Mr. Shimerda's soul to reach heaven, but Anton thinks prayer is necessary. He tells a story to explain:
  • When he was young he was an altar boy. During war with the Prussians lots of men died, and he used to go with the priest to say the last rites. Everyone in the camp got sick from cholera except for he and the priest, because they were carrying the holy sacrament with them.
  • Grandfather admires the young man's faith.
  • After dinner Anton starts trying to cut a path through the snow to the Shimerda's house so that a wagon can get through. Otto sets to making a coffin.
  • Jim admires Anton's long wolf skin coat, which was made from coyotes he shot and skinned himself. He watches Anton start to cut the path through the snow.
  • Grandfather rides off to the Shimerdas to meet the coroner there. Otto starts work on the coffin while Jim watches. He tells a story about the last time he made a coffin, when he was working in Colorado. An Italian died in a mine and he was the only guy around who knew how to make a coffin.
  • Everyone agrees that it's a good thing Otto is around to make the coffin.
  • Jim likes listening to the sounds of the coffin being made. He wonders why Otto didn't choose to become a cabinetmaker, since he seems to like carpentry so much. He even sings while he works.
  • At 4pm Mr. Bushy the postmaster stops by. He is another neighbor who is on his way to the Shimerdas' house. Several other neighbors stop by and Grandmother feeds them all cake. Everyone wants to know details about the suicide and they all discuss where Mr. Shimerda will be buried. They worry that a suicide won't be allowed to get buried in the Catholic graveyard.
  • Jim thinks it's nice that everyone is talking to each other. He listens to several more of Otto's stories, but we don't get to hear any of them in detail.
  • The postmaster stops back at the Burdens' again on his way home from the Shimerdas'. He reports that the Norwegian burial yard has refused to take in Mr. Shimerda's body. This angers Grandmother.
  • Then Grandfather returns with Anton and the coroner. The coroner thinks that Krajiek killed Mr. Shimerda, but Grandfather has talked him into letting that possibility go. Also, Krajiek is acting very guilty.
  • At supper everyone continues to talk about where they should bury Mr. Shimerda. Ambrosch and Mrs. Shimerda want to bury him on the corner of their land. Grandfather tells Ambrosch that someday there will be a crossroads there, but Ambrosch doesn't care. Grandfather seems to think there is some superstition in Bohemia about burying a suicide at cross-roads.